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Niswiyya, Nisā’iyya and Unthawiyya: Some Reflections on Arabic Terms for ‘Feminism


This paper addresses three Arabic terms used for feminism: niswiyya, nisa'iyya and unthawiyya pointing out their connotations and semantic aspects. One of the problems which feminist scholars face is linguistic. There is a historical rejection of the term feminism and all its derivatives in Arabic. It is often perceived as a Western secular product that recalls the bitter experience of European colonialism. The paper draws from the reflection of two Egyptian Islamic intellectuals involved in the question of improving Egyptian women’s conditions. Their words emphasize how the efforts of contemporary Islamic feminists can be discredited just because they fall under the label of ‘Islamic feminism’.